How The Problem of Food Waste in Agriculture can be Reduced
When we reduce food waste and food loss in our environment, we tend to help our teeming population increase food security. A study shows that every year, 1.6 billion can be fed from the food waste disposed of as excess by humans.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) explains that food loss is referred to as the spoilage or spilling of food items before reaching the retail stage, while food wastage happens when food is left unconsumed by humans for a longer period of time.
In most industrialized nations, about 40 percent of food got discarded by the final consumers, while in developing nations, about 40 percent of food was lost due to lack of good storage, transport, and harvesting methods.
Most food loss is as a result of substandard equipment for crop handling, storage, harvesting, as well as fewer farmers’ knowledge of the benefit of balanced crop nutrition which also contributes to food waste.
Avoiding Food Loss and Food Waste using Nutrients
Nutrient deficiencies have a negative impact on crop produce, which often leads to them being rejected by the shops and consumers. This can be avoided with the help of correct fertilizing.
Cereals: Little amount of nitrogen in the form of proteins can lead to food loss in cereals. For exanple; when wheat is used to bake, the bread will fail to rise sufficiently. If the cereal crops have too much nitrogen, this can lead to food waste as well.
Fruits: Lack of potassium will cause fruit to be smaller and have less color and sweetness than normal. This often leads to fruit being discarded by farmers before it reaches the final consumers because it fails to meet their standards. Also, lack of calcium in apples will result in a condition called; bitter pit, this causes spots and marks to appear on the fruit. The resulting damaged look causes many apples to be discarded before they reach the shop shelves.
Vegetables: The main causes of damaged vegetables are air, moisture, light, temperature, and microbial growth. Most vegetables spoil easily due to the damage caused by microorganisms. Microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast and molds need water and nutrients for growth, energy and reproduction. To reduce loss of vegetables, it should be protected from microbial organisms and should be stored in a very conducive place.
Also, fertilizers used to supply the correct balance of nutrients can also enhance the crops’ shelf life, reducing the risk for food loss further.
Promising Methods of Reducing Food Loss and Food Waste
Cutting food waste by half and reducing food loss markedly by 2030 is part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
On a consumer level, this can be achieved by getting consumers and shops to accept more produce that does not look perfect. Many supermarkets have already started campaigns to change people´s views on edible fruits and vegetables.
“Up to 20% of a farmer’s crop fails to reach market specifications due to quality aspects, such as size, shape, colour, sweetness or protein content.”
Among farmers in developing countries, especially in Africa, the big potential lies in adopting more efficient harvesting and storage techniques. This will prevent the excess loss of food within the continent.